Uruguay may have been leading their semi-final against Brazil, but it was A Seleçãozinha doing all the attacking as the clock ticked down. No 50-50 ball was left unchallenged by the spirited Uruguayans, and when Maximiliano Moreira scampered down the left with only 18 minutes remaining and shrugged off the challenge of Matheus, they suddenly sensed an opportunity to kill the game off.
Latching onto Moreira’s pass, substitute Guillermo Mendez surged into the box and tried to fire off a shot. The ball was deflected, however, running across the face of six-yard box and into the path of fellow sub Juan San Martin, whose first-time cross-shot gave keeper Charles no chance and all but confirmed La Celeste’s place in the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011.
That collective determination and opportunism is a hallmark of Fabian Coito’s spirited side, whose run to Sunday’s showpiece match has been founded on teamwork rather than individual brilliance - teamwork encapsulated by the contribution of squad members such as Mendez and San Martin.
“I was on the bench and the boss told me I was going on,” Mendez later told FIFA.com. “I helped set up the second goal and then I scored the third, which obviously I’m very happy about. This team always battles hard and gives everything it’s got. And we do that because we know what this jersey means. Now we’re on the way to the final.”
Striking as a unit
One of the most impressive aspects of Uruguay’s relentless advance to Sunday’s showdown with Mexico at the Azteca is that is has been achieved despite a troublesome knee-injury to their star asset Juan Cruz Mascia. Despite his absence from the front line for their quarter-final against Uzbekistan and the semi with Brazil, Coito’s charges still managed to rack up five goals, conceding none in the process.
With Mascia sidelined, the attacking burden has been shared. Santiago Charamoni and Rodrigo Aguirre were the men on target against the Uzbeks, while Elbio Alvarez struck from the spot to set Los Charrúas on the road to victory over Brazil, one sealed by their goalscoring substitutes.
Coach Coito has shuffled his team in an effort to cover for Mascia and keep his forwards on their toes, with Mendez featuring in all six games so far but starting only the group game against England. San Martin, meanwhile, made the starting line-up for the first three games and then sat out the round-of-16 and quarter-final before making his return in Guadalajara.
“I’m always ready to play and got the chance to come on today,” San Martin told FIFA.com afterwards. “They’re technical decisions and I always do what the coach tells me.”
An immovable obstacle
Uruguay’s attacking plans may have worked out perfectly so far, but the foundation for their exploits at Mexico 2011 has been their miserly defence, which has let in just three goals in six games. That is three goals fewer than beaten semi-finalists Germany, who have the next best defensive record in the competition, having conceded six in their half dozen outings.
That defensive solidity was a factor once more against the Brazilians, with Uruguay’s steadfast rearguard and speedy midfield tirelessly combining to close down the gaps, their dedication to their task unaffected by the searing Guadalajara sun.
“This team’s got pedigree and the desire to chase down every single ball, which is really important in football,” added San Martin, extolling the virtues of a side that rarely loses its composure and shows a maturity way beyond the tender age of the players, all of which ensures that Coito’s game-plans are carried out to the letter.
“There’s no such thing as pressure as far as I’m concerned,” concluded Mendez. “When I’m out there I try to get on with my job, which is to play football. I don’t pay much attention to what’s going on off the pitch or in the stands.”
Given the cacophony of noise that the Mexico fans are sure to serve up at the Azteca on Sunday, that approach looks to be a sensible one.